Humming to herself, Lucretia strolled through the streets of Deardun openly, ignoring the celebrating people, drinking themselves into fits of jubilation and contests of strength. To her eyes, it was extremely distasteful, but she didn’t really judge the average person for their strange ways of coping with life.
Because honestly, Lucretia had made her bread and butter playing to those people. Of warping their expectations and changing their lives.
In her chest, warm and icy and sweet Aether flowed, the fresh and extremely pure dose she had obtained from the Ghosthound. It still shocked her how potent the Aether she had obtained from him was. It was too much for her to handle at first. But the more she savored it, using it sparingly on a few pet projects she had long tinkered with, bringing them to fruition, the more she had a craving for more.
“All in good time…” She whispered to the air, stepping carefully over a man who was passed out on the street.
Lucretia dared walk openly here because although the highest powers in Deardun would give her pause, their attention wouldn’t waiver from the arena today. There was something in the air, a powderkeg about to blow, all related to the Ghosthound. Several groups wanted him dead, for various reasons, and their noose was slowly tightening, even though the boy didn’t know it.
Which was inconvenient for Lucretia, because she very much wanted more of this very pure Aether. So it was necessary to finally force her sleeping card to awake. Hopefully his time in the darkness had driven him a little off the edge, and make Shal more… amenable to her influence.
Very quickly, Lucretia arrived at the inn they were staying at, and looked up, smiling to find that her spell on Shal had faded to just a subconscious suggestion, allowing him to remain asleep, should he choose it. And sleeping he still was, just as she had intended.
Almost as if he was waiting for her, an elderly bald man was sitting in meditation in front of the inn, a spear across his knees.
Lucretia clicked her tongue. “How did you know? Very rarely are my comings and goings not seen as a surprise.”
The man chuckled as he straightened and stood, lowering his spear towards her. “…You probably do not remember it, but there was one night you snuck into Captain Aemont’s tent… I saw it. Even then, I had a knack for hearing the music of the soul… and now that ability has grown more than I thought possible. It was unavoidable that I would hear the rising crescendo of your involvement increasing.”
To her surprise, Lucretia was slightly happy that this man was here. It meant that she could share, just enough, just so he would know about how wide and deep her influence ran. Now, when she was so close to succeeding at so many things… it was a heady drug. But Lucretia was also guarded by a caution that had kept her alive for 300 years. There was no need to move quickly.
“Shal we head upstairs?” Lucretia said, wagging her eyebrows at Divveltian, hoping he would catch her invisible pun.
Unfortunately, he was supremely unamused, and unwilling to listen to her. “…I think not. Shall you draw your spear in the next few seconds or am I going to kill an unarmed woman with a clean conscience?”
Even before he finished speaking, he launched himself forward, rushing towards Lucretia. In her heart, she felt a small glow of admiration at his decisiveness. If he were a bit older, and gave her a murderous look like that while they weren’t on a public street… Lucretia was forced to fan herself with her hand, desperately dispelling her manufactured blush.
Of course, she already had a date to this ball.
Their spears crossed with a clang, Divveltian seemingly surprised to find the slightly charred corpse with a hole in its neck fighting against him, wielding a terrifying black spear. The eyes of the man were almost completely dead, without the slightest sign of life. But his spear was quick, impossibly quick, moving at a speed that seemed to tear some of the muscles of the body as it made the moves.
Narrowing his eyes, Divvet turned his attention to the new threat, a rising music filling the air, making Lucretia coo in amusement and bob her head. Truly, Divvet was a talented and dedicated spear user that had finally found his own, because he inflicted wound after wound on the wielder of the black spear.
But he earned several small wounds of his own. And the wounds of Black Spear were not bleeding, but there was an increasingly bright red light coming from the body’s eyes.
Lucretia laughed, ignoring the passersby who seemed to realize this wasn’t normal.
Divveltian hissed between his teeth. “What the fuck is this?!?! This body is from the Endless Heat Style, and yet-”
“Uses the Creeping Rot Style…? You have a good eye, you really must have traveled around a bit after you retired from the Frontlines…” Lucretia mused. “But my… transactions have earned me quite a few souls, who want a chance at eternal life. With a little bit of a certain kind of energy…”
Lucretia’s grin was wolfish. “It is very easy to tie some old souls to young bodies, with a spark of life. Even easier when the recipient is willing, but…. Well no point in letting this drag out. Isradius, kill.”
Black Spear nodded, his eyes glowing red. He raised his spear, and Divveltian roared and raised his own, the phantom image of spears appearing behind him, moving to the rising music, sweeping everything else away.
With a huge crash, the two men rushed each other and lashed out, aiming to break the other. Black Spear with a strange dank weakness in his strike, Divveltian filled with music of battle. The shockwave passed harmlessly through Lucretia, and smashed several of the gawking onlookers into nearby walls, inflicting serious injuries.
Divveltian staggered back, but Black Spear was stopped dead too, although he appeared slightly superior, the light in his eyes was immensely diminished.
Lucretia frowned, however, sensing how some of the bones in Black Spear’s arms had shattered, and were healing very slowly. Whether it was the difference in Style or body size and shape, there was something about the soul using the body that was destroying it, at a speed that was unacceptable. But Lucretia was never one to only have one option.
She raised her hand to cue another card, but a voice interrupted her.
“Kukuku… It is for the best then that I came back for a quick drink before the match… otherwise how could I have ended up the hero?” A young man that Lucretia vaguely recognized as one of the Ghosthound’s spear attendants arrived, producing his spear and pointing it at Black Spear.
“Kid, don’t get in-” Divveltian began, but the young man just waved him off.
“Old man, you know there is only one thing I’m good at… and that’s taking blows. There is no need to worry about the glorious I, or my name is not Roger K-”
The young man was struck from behind, a spear smashing into his back and sending him tumbling like a ragdoll. The body hit the ground and bounced, then rolled several feet, then went still. Her second pawn walked forward, his eyes glowing red.
Divveltian’s eyes widened. “You…. why…?”
The wounded young man stirred, even as the wound in his shoulder began to bleed profusely. He got his hands underneath him, and then grunted, moving himself up. Then he grabbed his spear, and pushed himself farther off the ground, even as he trembled.
“An ambush…? Fool… the more wounded I become…. The stronger my will to survive….!”
The young man heaved himself up with a momentous act of will. Although he was a bug to her, Lucretia was so impressed with his determination that she clapped for him. Sensing the applause, the young man grinned and bowed to her, almost falling over in the process, and losing large spurts of blood as his weight shifted.
In spite of herself, Lucretia smiled. He was truly amusing. But what was even more amusing… was the look on his face as he straightened and saw the assailant who attacked him. There was a long silence as the two regarded each other.
The young man rubbed at his eyes. “Holy shit, I must have drank more this morning than I thought I had….”
“Are you really so shocked that I’m strong…? That I’m not relying on you guys for power…?” The voice was filled with barely disguised disgust and fury.
The young man simply shrugged, seemingly at a loss. “Claptrap, what-”
“No, don’t bother to talk,” Claptrap hissed, his body walking forward, his eyes glowing red as the soul Lucretia had grafted onto him seized control to use the spear to its full effect. “I’m tired of it. I’m tired of you all pitying me, of treating me like I’m just a convenience, rather than part of the team. So I’m done with you all. And I will make you pay for every ounce of misery you forced me to experience.”